While, of course, there are still races left to sail and anything could happen, after the penultimate day of the Puma Moth World Championship off Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, Britain’s Simon Payne is looking well placed to reclaim his title - leading with a nine point cushion over US Olympic Laser sailor Brad Funk, and a fifth place discard up his sleeve in reserve.
He may not have won a race today, but Payne scored the next best – a string of three seconds. And yet once ashore, ever the perfectionist, he was still beating himself up about it: “I only sailed 6/10 today. Thank Christ there was a general recall, because I was dead and buried.
“I lost the lead twice. The race officer was rightly starting when there was maximum breeze, but then the wind would pretty much die throughout the race. I was okay when the breeze was up at the start, but as it died...and Brad [Funk] with his North rig is quick, I am on a little flat sail because I’m only small...I really struggled there. But I also misjudged my starboard layline. I was so worried about getting stuck out on a corner and just dying out there because consistency will be important at this event.”
This cost Payne the second race when Andrew McDougall was more conservative with his starboard layline call into the top mark and was able to foil in as Payne floundered lowriding. It was also the exact same scenario in the third race when Brad Funk was also able to overhaul him approaching the weather mark.
So with the regatta running out of races and Payne leading – was this affecting how he sailed today? “I was risky on the starts and the first beat and I knew that if I was at the windward mark [in a good position] it was ‘don’t do anything stupid’. There are people racking up big numbers. I knew boat for boat I couldn’t outdrag Brad in the very light winds.”
Three races were held today after yet another delay ashore and when the wind did fill in - as with every other day at this regatta - it topped out at around 9 knots, but was typically lighter providing yet more arduous on-the-verge-of-foiling conditions for the 43 competitors. “It wasn’t difficult on direction, but it was in pressure,” said Payne of the conditions. “A couple of times I tacked on starboard and really struggled with this flat rig to get up on to the foils in 5 knots. So that was a challenge. What I’d really love is 10-12 knots when people are on the foils and sailing fast.” A sentiment wholeheartedly echoed by everyone here.
Aside from Payne, the star player of the day was once again Fort Lauderdale's coolest, Brad Funk, who added another two bullets to his scoreline, and would have ended the day a serious threat to Payne's lead had he not bombed in race two today when he finished 13th.
“I miscalculated the start and had to go below people to get through them,” admitted Funk of today’s gruesome race. “At the top mark I was 15th or deeper than that. Then I managed to catch up to seventh by the second leeward mark. There I risked asking for room on Arnaud [Psarofaghis] and he first said ‘no’, but then he dove low so I wasn’t sure if he was going to let me in. So I snaked high and then low to slow down so that he could get ahead of me and break the overlap and then let him go. Then going around the leeward mark he started to turn faster than me and I didn’t get my weight outboard enough to windward and I didn’t want to hit him, so I just sent it to windward and my leeward wing hit the water and I came off the foils and seven boats just went right around me. I ended up losing 200m, easy, in order to get back on the foils. It is not quick being off the foils...”
Aside from this horror show, Funk won race one and three today mainly by getting good starts. Having learned his lesson yesterday when he found himself caught up in congestion (typically in 'marginal conditions' there is a big pile up of lowriders down at the pin), Funk's approach today was to lurk to the right of the committee boat and then do a timed run into the boat end of the line on foils and at pace. “When it is light marginal I am learning that staying on the foils and just getting off the line, even if you are 10 seconds late you are foiling, half the fleet [more in our opinion] isn’t foiling and you are out of the mess and then you just kick away from there. I think that is the way to roll, especially when you are a little bit on the heavier side.” (Which he isn’t).
In the first race Funk hit the left hard, was allowed a clear lane all the way and led from then on. In the third, as mentioned, he was able to overhaul Simon Payne by making a better call on the starboard layline into the top mark for the final time. “That as the only opportunity I was going to have to pass him and I went an extra 20 seconds and tacked. He didn’t make layline and I made it just barely and the race was over from there.” In the second race Andrew McDougall said he went just another 20m on from Payne and after a neat foil-born tack was able to lay and take the lead.
Picking laylines in foiling Moths seems to be a big issue, particularly in marginal foiling conditions such as we had today and indeed mostly all week. As Brad Funk puts it: “It’s incredible. Just two knots of wind more and the angles get so much narrower. In this light marginal stuff it gets so light you are bearly going downwind and foiling.”
AMac agrees: “Race craft on the laylines is really tricky and it changes so dramatically as the pressure goes up and down. Staying on the foils was a big factor and I guess a lot of that is picking laylines so that you don’t have to tack.” So much so that some competitors have been starting on port simply because it means one less tack.
Elsewhere in the fleet Hyde Sails boss Mike Lennon had a good day posting two thirds in today’s last two races and there were some other new faces getting their first top ten results – Australian Rob Gough, who came fourth in today’s second race and American Zach Maxim who was fifth in that same race. Arnaud Psarofaghis, Bora Gulari and Chris Graham had days they’re rather forget.
The Puma Moth World Championship concludes tomorrow with two races, one scheduled and the other being yesterday’s cancelled third race. In theory proceedings are supposed to get going at 1100, but if previous days this week are anything to go by, this is most unlikely...